Lowe’s Enters Manhattan with Smaller-Format Concept Stores

Home improvement big-box chain Lowe’s brings its big brand of happy homes and hardware to scale with two shrunken sites in NYC

By Erin M. Loewe


Shrinking a big-box store to be more palatable for urban consumption might be old news, but drastically reducing the footprint of a home-improvement behemoth like Lowe’s seems downright radical. In late-summer 2015, the Mooresville, N.C.-based hardware retailer broke into the Manhattan market with two smaller-format stores in the Upper West Side and Chelsea. In fact, the big-box retailer can’t really even call these stores “big boxes,” each measuring around 30,000 sq. ft., about one-third the size of a typical 112,000-sq.-ft. Lowe’s. They are the result of an intensive collaboration with Columbus, Ohio-based global retail and brand consultancy FITCH.

Jonathan Luster, vice president of market and concept development for Lowe’s, says both the neighborhood feel and high foot traffic made the sites appealing. “We wanted to be rooted in neighborhoods instead of tourist destinations,” he says. “We sought to understand local shopping norms and how we could insert ourselves into homeowner, renter or property manager shopping patterns.”

The goal for Lowe’s was to keep the store streamlined, but still offer what you expect to find in a Lowe’s, says Joanne Putka-White, design director at FITCH. “We wanted it to be a source of inspiration for all customers, to be heavily service-driven and to be convenient,” she explains.

The research that went into developing the concept resulted in the idea to cater to both the right- and left-brained Lowe’s shopper. The right-brained areas of the store focus on the homeowners, designers and the DIY crowd, and also feature design vignettes for the kitchen and bathroom areas. The left-brained areas are geared more toward property managers, building superintendents and builders.

Both the Chelsea and Upper West Side sites feature pedestrian-friendly design touches, like display windows and a garage door opening onto the street so customers can easily purchase fresh flowers. As many city dwellers have little space to store dirt, both locations also provide a potting station where customers can assemble their portable garden creations before leaving the store.

In addition, both sites feature a ProServices desk specifically for professional customers to get in and get out with ease, along with commercial street-side parking and curbside pickup—an undeniable convenience in an area where parking tickets can add hundreds to the cost of doing business.

Rival retailer Home Depot opened its first Manhattan stores in 2004, and they are around 100,000 sq. ft.—about the same size as its suburban stores. However, Luster says maintaining Lowe’s promise of “everything home improvement” within the smaller footprint and edited offerings of the new Lowe’s stores necessitated the company first have strong omnichannel capabilities. “We needed to be able to deliver products not stocked in the store throughout the city, and having systems to access the 1 million sq. ft. (in the stores) around Manhattan made us feel a lot more comfortable imagining how that could be,” he explains.

Signage is one resource used to communicate the added depth of products that may not be available in-store but are available online. Using a concept called “Next Aisle Over” digital technology, Lowe’s can provide products that may not be available in-store but are easily delivered quickly (such as large appliances). “The messaging and signage helps customers understand how much product is available and also how Lowe’s can deliver it to them—key for an urban customer who may not have the time, transportation or resources to get the product home themselves,” says MJ Picard, associate design director at FITCH.

Lowe’s did not view shrinking the store as an editing down process—in fact, Luster is careful to note that the directive was more about noticing what customers were buying the most of and then going up from there. In their background research, the team identified eight different home improvement “occasions” that would fit neatly into the new space, including paint, appliances and maintenance/repair.

“Our approach to our offering was inductive,” Luster adds. “We worked with homeowners, renters and property owners to bring in what they wanted, instead of simply reducing our standard offering. It helps us to be unique, and it makes it feel like a tailored neighborhood store.”

New product lines for the Manhattan customer include Honest Company and some smaller-format appliances from companies like Bosch and Smeg. But Putka-White says that the Chelsea and Upper West Side stores really stand out because they are designed for the city norms. “I think it surprised everyone that people were looking in the windows,” she says. “People don’t do that at 112,000-sq.-ft. stores. People grab fresh flowers on their way home from work and talk to employees. The pedestrian dynamic is so intense; it’s so different for Lowe’s, and for me, that’s the really special part.”


Project File

Lowe’s City Center
Chelsea and Upper West Side, New York    



Perry M. Petrillo Architects P.C.

American Display & Fixture, Brown Industries, Colony 
Display, EB Display Co. Inc., Madix Inc., Zwest Industries

Pratt Visual Solutions

Information in the project file is provided by the retailer and/or design firm.

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